Skip to comments.Tea Party’s hot mess: Inside a noisy, disenchanted movement (buckle up for this)
Posted on 06/25/2014 12:32:49 PM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
In Mississippi on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran defeated state Sen. Chris McDaniel in a runoff election to determine who would be the state Republican Partys nominee for Senate in the extremely conservative state. Despite the fact that the two men were more or less indistinguishable on issue positions, the race was remarkably contentious and largely defined by dueling allegations of impropriety and fraud. Indeed, while non-conservatives may consider the differences between the so-called establishment and Tea Party wings of the GOP to be slight, the primary battle that reached its culmination last night is clear evidence that Republicans themselves strongly disagree.
On that front, if nowhere else, Mississippi GOPers have themselves an unlikely companion: University of Washington associate professor Christopher Parker, who is the author of 2013′s Change They Cant Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America and is a firm believer that the divisions within the GOP are significant and likely to endure. Hoping to gain a keener insight into the Tea Party mind, Salon recently called Parker to discuss his research, his recent Brookings Institution paper on the Tea Party and why he doesnt think the kind of bickering and dysfunction we saw in Mississippi as of late is likely to go away any time soon. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.
You make a distinction between Tea Party conservatives and establishment conservatives, even though they often support essentially the same policies. How come?
There are a couple of really key differences, one of which has to do with change. An establishment conservative doesnt necessarily embrace change of any kind; in fact, theres a reason they cling to conservatism, because they prefer stability. So they dont necessarily embrace change, but what they do do is they know that [change is] necessary in order to maintain a stable society over the long haul What they want is, if a change is going take place, they prefer to have organic, controlled change versus revolutionary change. In other words, evolutionary versus revolutionary change. You can see that in the works of Edmund Burke, who railed against the French Revolution because it was such a drastic change and [because] he would have preferred more evolutionary change, not something so drastic that it completely overturned the foundations of society. The difference between these establishment conservatives is that they see change as a necessary evil, if you will, in order to maintain a stable society over the long run.
Now, a reactionary conservative, they dont want change at all. In fact, they want to look backwards in time to a time during which their social group their power and cultural hegemony was unquestioned. Beyond that, they will do anything they can to protest social change of any kind, up to and including breaking the law Thats what the Klan did; thats what the Tea Party has done on a couple of occasions with their violence. Its not as much violence as you saw with the Klan in the 1920s, but you do see some of the ways in which they break law and order. If youre a real conservative, youre supposed to be all about law and order. But these reactionary conservatives theyre not completely about law and order if it means capitulation and the loss of their social prestige.
Let me just tell you one second point: Another axis of difference between the two is that an establishment conservative will see policy differences or policy preference differences between them and progressives as merely political differences. But these reactionary conservatives see policy differences, or differences of policy preferences, as a contest between good and evil. They have this Manichaean way of looking at politics, this apocalyptic way of looking at politics. Therefore, compromise cannot be [allowed]. Compromise will not be tolerated whatsoever, because they see it as concession to evil, whereas an establishment conservative knows that compromise is necessary.
Could you expand a bit on the point you just made about Tea Party lawlessness, because one of the common claims the right makes in defense of the Tea Party is to contrast its supposed law-abiding nature with the again, supposedly more anarchic behavior of the Occupy Wall Street crowd.
Think about what happened in Arizona, with the attack of some of the Arizona representatives offices that voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act. Some of their offices were vandalized by Tea Partyers thats one example. A more recent example, quite honestly, is what recently happened in Nevada, those people that went on that shooting spree that killed those cops those people were linked to the Tea Party. Im not saying they were members of the Tea Party, but they were Tea Party sympathizers. As a matter of fact, [their victims] were draped in the Gadsden flag. So, Im just saying [Tea Party supporters are] not above breaking law and order. Theyre not above challenging law and order.
What are some other popular conceptions about the Tea Party that you think are mistaken?
The bottom line is that a lot of people assume that the Tea Party people are just crazy but thats not the case. I mean, thats really not the case, and I want to dismiss that misconception as soon as I can Another misconception [is] that the Tea Party is really just a bunch of racist people and that their movement is about racism and its really not Its bigger than racism. People who tend to support the Tea Party, they tend to be sexist, they tend to be homophobic, they tend to be xenophobic; so its not just about race. Its about difference. Its about anything that violates their phenotypical norm of what its supposed to mean to be an American: white, mainly male, middle-class, middle-aged or older, heterosexual, and native born. Anything that falls beyond that description is considered not to be a true American and therefore these groups are encroaching on what they see as the real America, the America that theyve come to know and love through their lifetime.
Would you include Christian among those things a Tea Partyer is likely to think an American is supposed to be?
Christian, writ large, yeah. I would definitely say that.
To that point, though, what would you say to Tea Party folks who would point to the popularity of women like Sarah Palin or people of color like Ben Carson as proof that charges of bigotry are unfounded?
They would say people like Ben Carson and Herman Cain [are] these sort of silver-minded Negroes. Theyre the exceptions. Now if we want to talk about looking at black folks as a whole, no theyre racist. There are some exceptional people that agree with their views whom they like and whom they want to hold out there to blunt any claims that theyre racist; theyre going to pick a couple token people. But that doesnt absolve them of racism.
OK. So what was your other point about Tea Party misconceptions?
My other point was that [Tea Partyers are] not crazy. People want to say that theyre crazy, and theyre really not. They want to maintain their social position, their social prestige; and as Frederick Douglass once said, Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will. So its rational to want to hold onto your position; its completely rational. Its about the means through which [Tea Partyers] do that thats what the problem is.
One could say, Maybe they need to be more educated! But thats another fallacy as it pertains to the Tea Party: People think theyre dumb. Theyre not dumb. Twenty-six percent of all strong Tea Party identifiers have at least a bachelors degree. People think theyre poor, or that theyre working-class. No, theyre not. Twenty percent of all Tea Party households have at least a $100,000 of income. So theyre not dumb, and theyre not working-class or poor and this has been the case with Birchers, this was the case with the 1920s Ku Klux Klan, this was the case with the Know-Nothing Party in the 1850s. Same demographic group, every time.
Another problem is just the double-talk that they use. They claim theyre about small government; theyre really not. They claim that they dont like Barack Obama cause hes a progressive; have they really looked at his legislative record? He governs as a centrist, regardless of what they believe his beliefs to be. On that, if you look at what happened on George Bushs watch I mean, lets be for real: the deficit on George Bushs expanded 104 percent If you look at Clintons tenure, it only expanded about 14 percent. If you look at the national debt, how much that expanded on George Bushs watch; if you look at the extent to which discretionary spending in George Bushs first term expanded I think it expanded by like 48-49 percent. I mean, come on! We didnt see any Tea Partyers out there at the time. We saw nothing when George Bush was doing all this stuff. George W. Bush got TARP passed. We saw nothing. Now we get Obama in, and now the world is going to shit
If I could play devils advocate here, what about the argument that many Tea Party types like Glenn Beck, for example like to make that says George W. Bush was bad, and they didnt like him either, but that Barack Obamas taken everything about Bush that was bad and made it even worse?
Was there a Tea Party when Bush was in office? No. [Laughs] All right? Im not saying that its not possible; all Im saying is that, to the extent to which there was some sort of tangible push-back or counter-mobilization [on the right] against Bush, we didnt see it when he was in office. So there might have been some people at the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute, and there were especially at the Cato Institute who had serious issues with Bushs policy. Im not saying that there werent. But we didnt see any mass movement. We didnt see any mobilization of this kind. Not even close to the mobilization of the Tea Party. Think about the number of people that are Tea Party members, just at the national level: Were talking maybe 700,000 people. But if were talking about Tea Party sympathizers, people who strongly identify with the Tea Party, were talking about 45-46 million people We didnt see anything like this when Bush was in office, period.
That ties in with another one of your arguments, which is that the Tea Party is, fundamentally, not an astroturf phenomenon but rather a legitimate grass-roots movement.
Its not the astroturf movement that a lot of people think it is. I said that in that Brookings piece and Ive backed that up with some evidence. Now, we saw what happened in Virginia, right? You had this guy, Brat, who got almost zero support from national Tea Party organizations and look what happened. So I think theres really valid data showing that the Tea Party movement is not the astroturf movement that people think it is.
Youve argued before that we shouldnt expect to see the Tea Party movement dissipate so long as Barack Obama or even Hillary Clinton is president, because its fundamentally a reactionary movement driven by people who are afraid of losing privileges. That makes sense, but at the same time, if their complaints are so much about power and station rather than more abstract ideological disagreements, that doesnt leave those of us who arent conservative may options when it comes to negotiating with these people. So while I get that establishment Republicans will make their peace with the Tea Party because their differences are relatively minor, what are the rest of us supposed to do?
What happens with these reactionary, right-wing movements, historically, is that they tend to coalesce whenever [the people involved] believe social change is happening too fast So if theres no threat to the American way of life, these people will go underground, as people say. But that doesnt mean theyll necessarily go away. For a while, they will go underground and we wont have to deal with them. But as soon as they perceive another existential threat, then they will reappear again. It happens all the time, historically.
Something Im wondering is, since reactionary conservatism is so tied-up with identity specifically, a white, mostly male and Christian identity does this mean that we can expect to see movements like the Tea Party disappear in the future, when the U.S. is projected to no longer be majority-white? (I know the whole question of what is whiteness is loaded and the definition has changed throughout American history, but lets table that element, if we could.)
I think its possible, but I dont think its going to happen in the near future. Maybe in 50 years But when you see these voter-suppression efforts, and the ways in which [voter ID proponents] continue to move the goal posts in order to ensure that they get the [voters] who are, for lack of a better term, more pro-status quo and if they continue to move the goal posts, then they will continue to extend this sense of cultural entitlement and the hegemony they feel they are supposed to have.
But theyre losing and [that dominant position] is slipping away, little by little Theyre prolonging their cultural hegemony through these shenanigans that theyve been conducting for the last four or five years, and its going to continue to be that way until the demographics in this country change sufficiently so that Republicans [have] more of an incentive to start listening to the policy preferences of people that dont look like them
That makes me wonder something that, in all honesty, makes a me a bit uncomfortable but: If youre correct and its the case that these people wont ever back down so long as they feel their social placement threatened, would it be possible to argue that Democrats would be better off nominating candidates who are not superficially threatening i.e., who are white guys while still pushing the same policy goals as they would under Obama or Clinton?
It doesnt make sense logically because you see what the Tea Party is doing to the Republican Party right now? Its tearing it apart. So if I were a strategist, Id continue to pick candidates that make the Tea Party group want to remain politically viable because its ripping the Republican Party in half.
But what about the idea that though the Tea Party has unquestionably hurt the GOP in some ways theyd probably control the Senate by now if not for the Tea Party, for example its also helped them gain a real iron hold over the House of Representatives and many state governments? Might their effect on the Republican Party not be quite so uniformly negative, then?
I think thats a legitimate argument Short of having some election reform then thats going to continue to be the case Thats a tough question, Elias. I think youre right, I think it could continue to muck up the world before we can get legislation passed; and if thats the case, then we have to get a strong president in there thats not afraid to pass an executive order, if it comes to that.
As Obama is doing now, with his strategy of doing as much via executive order as possible.
Right. Were probably going to have to resort to something like that.
Last question: Were you surprised to see Rep. Kevin McCarthy beat out Rep. Raúl Labrador in the vote for a new House majority leader, now that Rep. Eric Cantor is stepping down? Labrador was generally seen to be the Tea Partys preferred candidate, but McCarthy won. Do you think this is surprising and does it mean the establishment within the GOP is more powerful than conventional wisdom implies?
To the extent that the Republicans still run the House and Boehners speaker of the House, Im not surprised at all that the establishment is starting to exercise a little more of their power. Boehner has the control; hes the speaker of the House. He has a lot of discretion and a lot of power. So while these folks are sitting in the House right now, and they know that the Republicans are more than likely to win the House again in 2014, they dont want to run against Boehner. I dont think they want to do that. So Im not surprised in the least that an establishment person won. Now, were going to see what happens in the continuing primary season as they continue to roll along, because I think the Tea Party is going to be around and I think they are far from finished. So well see. I think the real litmus test is going to be what happens in the next Congress. Thats going to be the real litmus test.
If he fights this thing, he can win.
It's about time somebody stood up the the Trayvon vote fraud.
“Despite the fact that the two men were more or less indistinguishable on issue positions ...”
Liberals really don’t understand conservatism, and know almost nothing about it. Sometimes we might need to remember that. We are arguing with people who don’t have any idea what we are talking about. That should be a huge advantage.
This isn’t about a grab bag of “issue positions”, though positions on issues are certainly important. It’s about having some principles, and being willing to fight for them. This piece was written by an ignoramus, which is to be expected from Salon.
lol. We’re trying to preserve ‘privileges’! hahahaha. This is so ridiculous, looks like Rachel Madcow wrote it.
This guy is your typical academic marxist. Case closed. He is living in an alternate universe.
These lies are despicable.
Salon - the most insane dreck ever displayed in pixels. Lifers in the swamps of madness.
The usual leftist horse manure.
Liberals hate the word FREEDOM..its like Krytonite to them..I want to see these same liberals live in North Korea or Venezuela where you have to wait hours to get hold of toilet paper, let’s see how fast they beg to come back to America
Started reading the comments.
I don’t recommend it unless you like visiting DU, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Thank God they think guns are icky. We’re going to need ‘em when this fast train to morontopia we’re on inevitably crashes and burns.
Exactly. Leftists don’t understand conservatives at all.
Saw this story this morning and it was so removed from reality decided not to post it here. There’s a groupthink that goes on with these Marxists. Echo chamber.
I stopped reading Leonard Pitts because I know what he’s going to say on any given issue.
Apparently the same with this guy.
Every few months if I see an interesting topic, I’ll read a few lines of Leo. But nope, he remains a `yellow dog’ plantation democrat on any issue.
Other than keeping an open mind—which is more than he does—why waste your time with these walking dead Dumbocrats?
Tea party? What tea party? There’s no tea party here. A change of affiliation for a day for trials of assessment in primaries then back to no affiliation the next. No organization. Nonpolitical. Next term, we’ll put many righteous, technically inclined spook devilles in local offices.
This is the best Summer I’ve had since I was a kid. The Democrats are stumbling around like a bunch of drunks trying to play hopscotch.
“The economy is up because it’s down!”
“We’re winning in Iraq because we’re losing!”
“More people on food stamps shows our success!”
The liberals are afraid of FREEDOM because it WORKS.
Pure projection by an academic leftist.
The GOP-e turns to Democrats to steal a Republican primary by a marginal amount in the runoff nonetheless, and this idiot at Salon derides TEA.
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